The owner of Harrah’s Resort Southern California, the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, has decided not to have the state of California oversee its gaming operations following the 2011 Supreme Court ruling. The tribe will work directly with the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) in the future as the first California gaming tribe to do so.
The State and Rincon agreed in November that regulatory oversight of this tribe’s gaming operations shall be conducted by NIGC and that California shall withdraw from the provision of regulatory oversight. As a consequence, Rincon signed the oversight agreement with NIGC on January 3 to end its long-lasting struggle with the State that began during the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger administration in 2004. Tribal Chairman Bo Mazzetti has been holding the chairman’s position for almost the same period, therefore he is confident in saying:
“What we’ve done is exert our sovereign jurisdiction as was originally intended by federal IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) that authorized Indian gaming. It was always the intent for tribes to run their own casino business but when they passed IGRA they said you need to reach an agreement with your state. That became the compact.” The chairman stressed that the tribe has obeyed the law ever since Indian gaming was legalized in the state. “We are implementing the law as it was intended by IGRA. It goes back to the intent of that law.”
Disputable supervision fees:
The tribe will be working with a gaming compact with the NIGC and not the State for these two parties could not reach an agreement on the amount to be charged for the state’s supervision, which resulted in the state’s withdrawal from the tribal casino oversight last November. Mazzetti explained that the dispute – dating in 2004 – was over the fact that the state was ”charging and wanting us to pay for things that were not part of the intent of IGRA. Paying into different funds that were not covered by the law.”
Lacking the payment breakdown:
Every gaming compact in California includes the clause where the tribe agrees to pay ”actual and reasonable oversight costs” to the state of California. Mazzetti said that Rincon agreed with the compact, but was not ready to fund payments lacking the state’s breakdown of such payment distribution, such as problem gaming, non-gaming tribes development programs, and more. That process involved Rincon, IGRA, and the state of California and was disputed.
Supreme Court ruling:
The dispute was finally brought to the U.S. Supreme Court where the tribe prevailed in 2011. The high court ruled that California was violating IGRA by demanding casinos pay into the Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund as a condition for adding more slot machines. “We have been in dispute for twelve years,” said Mazzetti. “We couldn’t reach an agreement for how much we should be paying and what we were paying for to the state and we said ‘you can opt-out.’”
Removing ”the middle man”:
According to the chairman, Rincon will see the advantage of taking the supervision from the state in removing “the middle man,” but declined to speculate how much cash will the tribe save with such removal. Instead, he said that Rincon’s gaming commission is one of the top-notch gaming commissions in the state and in the country, completely capable of doing the oversight job. He added: “It basically takes the state out of it. We never could never get an actual determination for what we were paying for specifically.”
“Our tribe stands up for what we believe is right. I’m old enough to not give in. We have stood up for what we believe in”, continued Mazzetti, who believes that other tribes may follow the Rincon lead as each tribe that has gaming operations has its own gaming commission. ”That is the requirement,” said Mazzetti, ”we have federal laws that say specifically what you need to do.” He also said: “We have laws to follow on money counting, cards, and every aspect of gaming. That’s set aside in federal law and we’ve always followed it.”
Regulated and safe operations:
The chairman pointed out that the tribe’s operations are regularly audited by the federal government and that the customers must know that these operations are ”safe, well-regulated, and proper.” He added: “We are the face of implementing the law as it was intended. We tried to work with the State for twelve years to get these issues resolved. We just wanted answers. We tried to negotiate and be good partners. We just could not get to that point. Ultimately, the State opted out because Rincon ‘had become like a burr under their saddle.”